Vegetables 101 ♥ The Beauty of Asparagus Berries

The Beauty of Asparagus Berries, another unexpected closeup on vegetables ♥ A Veggie Venture
graphic button small size size 10 It's no puppy cam or funny cat video but we interrupt the usual vegetable recipe programming to get up close and intimate with ... asparagus berries. Not to eat, just to look at! and learn about! Aren't the fronds and berries just so delicate and pretty? graphic button small size size 10

WHAT ARE ASPARAGUS BERRIES? Asparagus "berries" appear in the fall on the fronds of female asparagus plants. Female plants??? Yes, there really are separate male and female asparagus plants, that makes asparagus one of numerous "dioecious" plants. [Dioecious is pronounced die-EE-shus, it means "two houses" in Greek.] Another dioecious vegetable is spinach; other dioescious plants include cannabis, date, mulberry, ginko, persimmons and currant.

WHEN DO ASPARAGUS BERRIES APPEAR? Asparagus plants produce feathery fronds near the end of the growing and harvest season. Then in late summer and early fall, green pea-sized berries begin to appear on the fronds. As autumn progresses, the berries turn bright red. (As a reference, the photos were taken on October 5th. This year, the berries were still green on October 5th.)

ARE ASPARAGUS BERRIES EDIBLE? No! Just a handful will cause severe digestive issues.

CAN YOU HARVEST ASPARAGUS BERRIES? Botanically speaking, asparagus "berries" aren't berries at all! Instead, they are seed pods, each one holds three or four seeds. This is how asparagus self-propagates. To intentionally grow new plants from these seeds, pick the red berries and allow them to dry naturally in the sun. Then break apart the pod to separate the seeds and work the seeds into the soil in your asparagus garden before frost. (You can also store the seeds inside to plant in the spring.) Berries aside, for better asparagus production during the next growing season, gardeners should trim back the asparagus fronds (including the berries) once they've yellowed and died back in the fall after frost.

SHOULD YOU CULL FEMALE ASPARAGUS PLANTS? The male plants produce a little earlier and are better overall producers. But ... um ... bad precedent, don't you think?

Sweet Pumpkin Seed Crumbles ♥

Sweet Pumpkin Seed Crumbles, a fall favorite ♥ A Veggie Venture
graphic button small size size 10 Crunchy clumps of oats and pumpkin seeds, more akin to a nut brittle than a breakfast-y granola. Honey-sweetened ... you can actually taste the honey that sweetens and binds the clumps! Seasonal, Absolutely Perfect for Fall. Great for Meal Prep. graphic button small size size 10

Hello, October ... in some circles also known as Pumpkin Month, that precipitous head-first dive into the internet's obsession with all things pumpkin. But it's fun, yes?! (And heaven knows, we can certainly use an apolitical distraction.) I hardly know where to start, except, well, with my already burgeoning collection of pumpkin recipes, where a surprising number fall into the "savory" category. That said, it's the everyday pumpkin pancakes and muffins and donuts and quick bread which garnered the biggest smiles when I took a table poll last week. Go figure.

And because there are oats in Sweet Pumpkin Seeds Crumbles, you might even call this a granola. But I already have a recipe for Pumpkin Granola that employs the moisture in pumpkin purée and the warmth of autumn spices for a seasonal but still-traditional granola.

But these? These are Sweet Pumpkin Seed Crumbles, more akin to Turkish Sesame Candy or an almond brittle than either Pumpkin Granola or the house recipe for granola, Homemade Granola with Almonds & Apricots.

In fact? Sweet Pumpkin Seed Crumbles are not a "breakfast" granola at all. Instead, they're one of those "extras" that I meal prep and for the third year now, find ever so easy to find uses for during these last months of the year. (The rest of the year? The light and airy Maple-Glazed Pecans, so-so good!) I just love that bit of slightly sweet crunch for:

A bowl of butternut squash soup or a fall salad, just a sprinkle on top makes all the difference
Some sautéed fruit, maybe atop morning oatmeal or creamy custard or baked apples
A charcuterie platter
A simple scoop of ice cream

Warm Lentil Salad with Spinach & Goat Cheese ♥

Warm Lentil Salad with Spinach & Goat Cheese, another easy, delicious meal prep salad ♥ A Veggie Venture
graphic button small size size 10 Oh people, what a salad! Better news still, it's made with common pantry ingredients, you may well have all of them in your fridge right this very second. It's just familiar lentils, the meaty ones that have such a great chew, paired with still-crunchy sautéed vegetables and barely cooked spinach and laced with pockets of melting goat cheese. Warm Lentil Salad is way more than the sum of its parts! Year-Round Kitchen Staple. Great for Meal Prep. Low Fat. High Protein. Naturally Gluten Free. Weight Watchers Friendly & Freestyle Friendly. Vegetarian. All this and dee-lish! graphic button small size size 10

Way way wayyyyyyyy back in 2007, I shared an earlier version of this wonderful Warm Lentil Salad. It was A Veggie Venture's second anniversary – and April Fool's Day, hence the "apparent" recipe, Ooey Gooey Caramel Chocolate Marshmallow Triple Cream Ricotta & Marcarpone Cheesecake in a Brioche Puff Pastry Baklava Crust with a Double Layer of Lemon Curd and Topped with Candied Raspberries and Toffee-Tossed Pecans and a Venetian Honey Hazelnut Butter Sauce. But is anyone surprised that my healthy lentil salad took second seat to all that sugar and butter? Ha! No surprise at all.

So here's the recipe again, because a salad this basic, this healthy, this good, deserves first billing. It's another classic-Alanna recipe, one that's easily adaptable based on what's on hand and what's in season and what you like. The essentials are simply the lentils, (preferably "meaty" lentils such as French green lentils aka lentilles du Puy, a standby in my kitchen) and the vinegar-brightened vegetables. Even the goat cheese – as lovely as it is – is optional if you're counting calories or don't have any on hand.

I usually make a double batch. The first night it makes a lovely bed for roast chicken –– or let's be real, shall we? –– a still-warm rotisserie chicken. After the first night, it's a welcome salad of substance for the supper salad bowls that happen so easily thanks to daily attention to meal prep versus cooking dinner.

One thing I wrote in 2007 and bears repeating, now and often, is this:

To all those who read and inspire what's found in these pixels and who encourage and befriend me, I thank you, I thank you truly. Do I mean you? Yes, YOU, I thank YOU. Who would believe that after thirteen years, I can still be completely obsessed by vegetables? In so many ways, it feels like I'm just getting started!

graphic button small size size 10 " was DELICIOUS!" ~ RandiBeth
graphic button small size size 10 "I've made this lentil salad recipe several times and loved it." ~ Cindy

Mexican Cauliflower “Rice” ♥

Mexican Cauliflower Rice, more Mexican meal prep ♥ A Veggie Venture
graphic button small size size 10 Cauliflower Meal Prep! Turn a head of cauliflower into a stand-in for rice for Taco Tuesday and so much more. We love this dish, so healthy, so flavorful. Low Carb. Weight Watchers Freestyle Friendly. Not just vegan, Vegan Done Real. Naturally Gluten Free. Whole30 Friendly. graphic button small size size 10

LET IT BE SAID Mexican is a totally food-prep friendly cuisine! When we did a month-long deep dive into Mexican cooking last spring, what fun – and the easiest cooking I've ever done in my entire life. (Want to know more about that project? See Deep Mexico: Ingredient-Driven Mexican Meal Prep. )

A big reason is that I'd do some meal prep every day. After that, dinner (and lunch and especially breakfast) kind of made themselves.

One of our favorites then (and still, four months later) was Mexican Cauliflower "Rice" – not rice at all, of course, but one of cauliflower's many low-carb chameleon acts. Cauliflower doesn't just masquerade as rice but also as potatoes, even chickpeas. There's a whole section here with all my cauliflower recipes. Check them out!

Summer Vegetable Curry ♥

Summer Vegetable Curry ♥, great for summer vegetables at their peak.
graphic button small size size 10 One of my very favorite summer stews, vegan and delicious and a great way to use a collection of vegetables from a CSA or the farmers market when the produce season is at its peak. Seasonal. Low Carb. High Protein. Weight Watchers Friendly & Freestyle Friendly. Not just vegan, Vegan Done Real. Naturally Gluten Free. Whole30 Friendly. Paleo. graphic button small size size 10

~updated for a little late-summer weekend cooking inspiration~
~more recently updated recipes~

By design, most vegetable recipes here on A Veggie Venture are simple and thus nearly always feature a single vegetable at a time. But there are times – now! – when the market's vegetables are so plentiful, eyes exceed appetite and soon it's almost Saturday again and the vegetable bin is still overflowing from last week's purchases.

This Summer Vegetable Curry is an Indian-spiced riff on 2005's Summer Vegetable Stew. Like many vegetable stews, it's perfect way to use up a lot of vegetables all at once. It takes some chopping and dicing but in the end, is completely delicious both hot and cold. I especially like it cold, doused in a simple splash of cream. Swoon ...

It turns out, these vegetable stews are something I look forward to when there's so much fresh produce in late July, August and September – so much that I have an entire collection of Favorite Seasonal Vegetable Stews!

For this Curry, the vegetables I see as "mandatory" – and even then, take such guidance with a grain, ahem, of salt – are the eggplant (for bulk) and the tomatoes (for moisture) and the corn (for a touch of sweetness). I serve it warm with a cool Greek Yogurt Sauce as creamy contrast (wonderful!) and a poached egg on top. Once again, swoon ...

Chickpea Recipes & Garbanzo Bean Recipes ♥ Alphabet of Vegetables

Wondering what to make with chickpeas besides hummus? Find new ways to cook chickpeas in this collection of Chickpea (Garbanzo Bean) Recipes ♥ Many Weight Watchers, vegan, gluten-free and low-carb recipes from everyday to good for company.
graphic button small size size 10 Never know what to do with chickpeas aka garbanzo beans? (Except making homemade hummus. You do make hummus, right?) Or on the other hand, maybe you're always looking for brand-new ways to cook with chickpeas? Find new inspiration right here in this collection of Chickpea Recipes / Garbanzo Bean Recipes from A Veggie Venture and Kitchen Parade, my food column. Many Weight Watchers friendly, vegan and gluten-free recipes from simple for every day to special for occasions. graphic button small size size 10

IN A RUSH? Prefer Another Vegetable?
Skip Straight to the Chickpea Recipes or Switch to the A-Z of Vegetables.

Chickpeas 101: THE BASICS
Pronounced [chik-pee]. Other Names for Chickpeas. Also called Chick Peas and Garbanzo Beans. Also known as Gram or Bengal Gram and some times as Egyptian Peas. Also called Ceci, Cece or Channa or Chana or Kabuli Chana.

What Are Chickpeas? Chickpeas are legumes – legumes, of course, being plants in the bean family – and thus cousins to soy beans, mung beans, lima beans, fava beans, lentils, peas and yes, even the peanuts we love so much in peanut butter! Chickpeas are a native of southwest Asia and have been grown in rotation crops back to the Roman times. Chickpeas show up frequently in Middle Eastern and Indian foods.

FRESH CHICKPEAS Chickpeas, of course, start off fresh and spring-green in color, they're quite pretty! See pictures here, what fresh chickpeas look like – but good luck finding fresh chickpeas. And then be prepared for the shelling process to go slooooowly.
DRIED CHICKPEAS Dried chickpeas are easy to find in nearly all grocery stores along with other dried beans and peas, look near the canned beans. They're usually packaged in plastic bags, I also seem them in bulk bins. Do shop in a store with high turnover, that's because dried beans stored too long or at too warm a temperature don't cook well, see Why Dried Beans Won't Cook. In fact, when I bring home packages of dried beans and chickpeas, I write the purchase date and location on the package. Then in the fall, usually after some months without cooking too many beans during warm weather, I throw away what's on hand unless the packages were purchased during the summer.
CANNED CHICKPEAS No doubt, most cooks reach for canned chickpeas when we need chickpeas. They're inexpensive and shelf-stable, easy to keep on hand. That said? They're also so-so salty and chickpea-for-chickpea, several times more expensive. I rely mostly on dried beans but also keep canned chickpeas on hand.
CHICKPEA FLOUR This is ground chickpeas, it's also called gram flour and besan flour. Chickpea flour is a gluten-free flour, the basis of socca, a French flatbread and farinata, the Italian version.
AQUAFABA You might not believe this but right now, "aquafaba" is the hottest form of chickpeas. What's aquafaba? You know how we rinse canned chickpeas? Well, aquafaba is that goopy liquid that goes down the drain. Save it! It turns out, that gunky stuff has amazing properties that make it a vegan substitute for eggs in meringues, mayonnaise and some very creative concoctions.
HUMMUS! But really and truly, isn't the most common form of chickpeas the one that's mixed with the sesame-seed paste called tahini? You know ... hummus! But here's the thing. Food writers get all kinds of grief when we title recipes "chickpea hummus". (We do that to distinguish between hummus made with the traditional chickpeas and variations made with lima beans, cauliflower, etc. Good cooks everywhere grind all sorts of beans into paste-y spreads.) But the thing is, pairing the two words "chickpea" and "hummus" together is like an unintended stutter, repeating the same word twice. Like "noodle pasta" or "salt sodium". Because in their original context, the word "hummus" literally means "chickpeas". In fact, even the "hummus" is just shorthand for the longer phrase, hummus bi tahina, "hummus with tahini". Fun, yes? But trust me, our misuse drives certain people c-r-a-z-y.

Party Conversation Cicero, the Roman orator, was named for the lowly chickpea, from the Latin word for chickpea, cicer. graphic button small size size 10 The shape of dried chickpeas have been compared to "rams heads" and "hawk faces". graphic button small size size 10 Israel, Egypt and Lebanon all claim to have originated hummus. Lebanon unsuccessfully sought protected status for hummus as a Lebanese product. graphic button small size size 10 Israel and Lebanon vie for domination in the "hummus wars" – where hummus weighs in by the ton.

Chickpeas in Special Diets. Chickpeas are naturally gluten-free. Chickpeas are derived from plants so naturally, are vegan. Chickpeas are South Beach friendly (Phase 1 and Phase 2) and Weight Watchers friendly. In fact, for Weight Watchers, chickpeas are "free" in the Freestyle program! Naturally, specific preparations matter to both of these eating regimens. Chickpeas are not accepted in the paleo, keto and Whole30 food plans.

Sources. Personal experience and accumulated learning, also the most-wonderful On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee aka the "Curious Cook", The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg and most recently, The Carrot Purple and Other Curious Stories of the Food We Eat by Joel S. Denker.


Are Chickpeas High in Protein? Yes and NO. The common wisdom is that chickpeas are high in protein – and they are, compared to many plants. However, among legumes, soybeans (especially) plus fava beans, lentils, mung beans and peas all contain more protein than chickpeas. So much for common wisdom. And there's a huge difference between how much protein can be derived from chickpeas (a cup of cooked chickpeas has under 7g of protein) and common animal proteins (3 ounces of cooked chicken breast has more than 26g). Please don't take this as "anti-vegetarian" or "anti-vegan" – no one is more passionate about eating plant-based real food, just check out Vegan Done Real. But I'm also passionate about helping everyone, myself included, make informed eating choices. End of soapbox!

Fattoush (Traditional Middle Eastern Salad) ♥ Recipe

Fattoush (Middle Eastern Salad with Romaine, Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Fried Pita Chips and Lemon-Sumac Dressing), another creative summer salad ♥
graphic button small size size 10 It takes a lot of words to describe what is in fact a super-simple traditional Lebanese / Syrian / Middle Eastern salad. So instead, just learn this one word and repeat after me: Fattoush. Fattoush. Fattoush. (That's fuh-toosh, fuh-toosh, fuh-toosh.) Now? Go make one. You really don't want to miss this classic summer tomato salad while this year's tomatoes are so perfect! Not just vegan, Vegan Done Real. graphic button small size size 10

~recipe updated, first published way back in 2011~
~more recently updated recipes~

Dear St. Louis Post-Dispatch,
A certain St. Louis food blogger is wild for the Fattoush Salad at Ranoush, the Syrian restaurants in University City and now in Kirkwood. Would you please see if the owners would share the recipe? Please, pretty please?
That Certain Food Blogger

Since February, I've been writing a weekly column for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch called "Special Request" – the one where St. Louisans write in to ask for recipes for their favorite dishes from restaurants. It's a kick! (See St. Louis Restaurant Recipes.)

But every once in awhile, I am tempted to game the system and send in my own request. Now that'd be cheating but I've been extra-tempted all summer long, ever since Ranoush opened a second location just a few blocks from home.

Ranoush is my kinda place. Good food. Open late! (The "Kirkwood Dinner Bell" rings at five so finding good food after 8pm here can be tricky!) Friendly owner and staff. A big patio with red umbrellas that brightens a too-long empty corner right in the midst of our little downtown. We've been at least three times – and I've suggested it for lunch and supper and a late-night snack at least that many times again – but have ordered only one thing, the fattoush salad. (Well, two, actually, but the amazing hummus will have to wait for another day.) The fattoush salad is made with romaine and tomatoes in a lemony-garlicky-sweetish vinaigrette and checkered with crisp squares of just-out-of-the-fryer pita bread. OH MY.